Your brain’s short term memory, the “scratch-pad” for temporary recall, can hold about seven items or less in a readily-available state for a short period of time (typically from 10 to 15 seconds, or sometimes up to a minute.)
Information that we accumulate in our short-term memory will quickly disappear unless we make a conscious effort to retain it.
Moving information to our long-term memory requires one of the following: mental repetition, associating it with another part of our memory, giving it meaning or having a strong motivation or desire to retain it (usually because it’s something we’re highly interested about.)
Relying on our brains as a storage system is dangerous as we, as humans, are simply not designed to act as long-term storage for every single thing we need to remember.
Interestingly enough, it has been thought that our memory operates the way it does to provide us with an evolutionary survival advantage.
Short-term memory allows us to pay attention to a small number of things and block out the noise from everything else we know. This allows us to operate quickly and make rapid decisions when we need to without being bogged down by the weight of decision-making (yes, it really does hold weight!)
Although our short-term memory provides us with the ability to instantly recall information, it should not be relied on as a storage system for the things we need to remember to do, process or action at a later date.
Short-term memory spontaneously decays over time (in the range of 10-15 seconds), which makes it difficult to retain details, and attempting to store away several elements will effectively cause those elements to compete with each other for space. As new information enters, the old information is displaced and outside interference causes that displacement to happen even faster. Although our brains are incredible organs, they are not infallible.
Instead of placing all that pressure and stress on our brains, we should be relying on external tools to remember the things that our memory is just not equipped to retain.
One of the tools that I like to use for my external, short-term memory storage is Wunderlist.
Wunderlist is a productivity tool that allows you to easily create to-do lists and categorize them according to your life / business needs. The reason I love this tool is because it exists on every device that I own – my computer, my iPhone and my iPad. No matter where I am, I can quickly and easily add things that I need to remember onto the appropriate list.
By relying on a third-party tool, I remove the stress on my brain’s short-term memory storage and can then channel that new-found clarity to focus in on larger projects and on making important and / or difficult decisions. I can also use the tool to be reminded of important due dates and I can share the list with anyone that may be able to help.
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If you, too, want to discontinue using your brain as a storage system, start using a tool like Wunderlist. Then, download my free book, 5 Tips to Boost Productivity, to learn more about how to use the tool to get more done and move things out of your short-term memory.
This free book contains five of my favourite productivity tips, including this one, and is a primer to my upcoming book, Burnout-Free Productivity.